updated 3/26/2008 11:17:02 AM ET 2008-03-26T15:17:02

DAVID GREGORY, HOST:  Tonight the big questions, what are Hillary Clinton‘s real chances of getting the nomination?  And by the way, if all this goes on, what are the chances my son will want to be a superdelegate for Halloween?  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE rolls on. 

Welcome to RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  Happy to have you in just our second week on the air.  This is the place for the fast pace, the bottom line and every point of view in the room.  This is one hour of solid information, analysis to make your own political debate even better.  The bedrock of this program, a panel that comes to play.  And with us tonight, MSNBC political analyst and host of her own show on “Air America” Rachel Maddow, NBC News analyst, chairman of Democratic Leadership Council and former congressman from Tennessee, Harold Ford Jr, NBC News political director Chuck Todd, and MSNBC political analyst, former presidential candidate himself, Pat Buchanan. 

We begin, as we do every night, with everyone‘s take on the most important political story of the day, it‘s “The Headline.” 

I‘ll begin right here tonight.  Hillary Clinton‘s right turn, breaking her calculated silence on Obama‘s pastor problem. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

SEN. HILLARY CLINTON (D), ‘08 PRESIDENTIAL HOPEFUL:  I think given all we have heard and seen, he would not have been my pastor.  We don‘t have a choice when it comes to our relatives.  We have a choice when it comes to our pastors and the churches we attend.  Everyone will have to decide these matters for themselves.  They are obviously very personal matters. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Bottom line, race is back on the table, a sign Clinton is ready to use the right controversy against Obama.  Is this an attempt to rally her voter base or is this an argument to those superdelegates that Obama has a problem that Republicans will run with if he‘s the nominee? 

Chuck Todd, your headline on Clinton‘s statement today. 

CHUCK TODD, NBC NEWS POLITICAL DIRECTOR:  Very much related right here right now, but I look at it as a chance for Hillary Clinton to change the subject.  She had become somewhat in a many feeding frenzy over this Bosnia story, this sort of the fish story about what happened when she visited Bosnia in ‘96.  She went through satellite interviews with local television today where she was peppered with questions about it.  Now suddenly, we‘re talking about Reverend Wright. 

GREGORY:  She threaded the needle here, Chuck.  She was very careful in her statement.  She was ready in this press conference.  She wrote it all down.  She didn‘t want to get too far out there. 

TODD:  And she didn‘t mix.  Notice that she made sure the statements were almost identical, what she said at this press avail. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

TODD:  What she said to the editorial board.  It was very interesting.  She chose to answer the question.  She could have chosen not to as the campaign had chosen not to address Reverend Wright over the last week. 

GREGORY:  Pat Buchanan, your headline tonight. 

               

PAT BUCHANAN, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think I‘m very close.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  Just like Barack Obama changed the subject away from Reverend Wright by suddenly introducing Bill Richardson and then flying off to the Virgin Islands, she went to the “Pittsburgh Post Tribune” and she reintroduced Reverend Wright as the subject, brought him back up, talked about hate speech, he wouldn‘t have been my pastor.  It‘s back on the board, it‘s political hardball.  But it is legitimate even if some Democrats are grumbling about the Tonya Harding option. 

GREGORY:  Who is she after here, Pat?  Superdelegates or white, mostly working-class voters in Pennsylvania and beyond? 

BUCHANAN:  She‘s going for Pennsylvania, bringing Reverend Wright back.  And when people put her statement on the air with tonight and tomorrow night, the next night, a lot of folks on television are going to have to put Reverend Wright on so that everyone knows what she‘s talking about. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

BUCHANAN:  I think it‘s aimed at Pennsylvania. 

GREGORY:  Got it. 

Harold Ford, your headline tonight. 

HAROLD FOLD, JR., NBC NEWS POLITICAL ANALYST:  Don‘t count her out.  She has shown, Hillary Clinton, an amazing ability when times are tough, after Iowa, after Barack Obama‘s amazing string of victories in February where she was able to put her campaign back on track and her chances back on track with key victories in Texas and Ohio and now is another moment. 

I would say one different thing than what‘s been said.  I think you have to separate race and Reverend Wright, because if Reverend Wright was white, I think we‘d have the same concerns, many would have the same concerns about his statement.  So this is not a racial issue as much as it‘s—I think, in Hillary Clinton‘s mind, listening to her answers to questions from the press, she was making a point about who her faith leader would be.  Now this is not a statement about whom Barack chooses to be his leader, faith in his church, but this is a little different than a racial question, I have to believe. 

GREGORY:  Well, but of course, it was Barack Obama who did put it in the context of race when he said, look, you have to understand Reverend Wright and the context of his background and the context of black anger. 

FORD:  I would agree—the way that Senator Obama handled that. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  But I think there are two separate issues here. 

GREGORY:  OK.  Rachel Maddow, what‘s your headline today? 

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC POLITICAL ANALYST:  I think that the Democrats have finally found a little bit of a silver lining in the dark cloud that hangs over their nomination race at this point, and that‘s silver lining is over Pennsylvania.  We‘ve got the voter registration in, because yesterday was the deadline, and there are now four million registered Democrats in the Keystone state, something—only something like 3.2 million Republicans.  That has got to be good news for Democrats in an otherwise pretty bleak campaign season for them right now. 

GREGORY:  Well, but is this good news?  Are you looking toward the general election or does this help one candidate over another coming up for the primary? 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think that it necessarily helps one candidate coming up for the primary.  But right now, whoever wins the Pennsylvania primary doesn‘t particularly help them get the nomination either.  Neither candidate can wrap it up in terms of—in terms of pledge delegates right now. 

So looking ahead to the general, Democrats have got to be thinking about their chances of beating John McCain as this nomination process on the Democrat side goes on and on and on and on with no end.  This little number, this little number about voter registration in Pennsylvania is the first glimmer of hope that I‘ve seen for the general, for Democrats in a couple of weeks. 

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, is that a similar take for you? 

TODD:  You know, it is.  I mean, I think that one of the things you

need to realize about what‘s going on in Pennsylvania is that, that‘s a big

deal.  You know, you can run up numbers now whether you‘re—Obama is the

nominee or Clinton is, run up numbers in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia and

make that state close to being out of reach.  It was almost proven before -

after 2004 that even when you run a candidate that doesn‘t connect to the middle part of Pennsylvania, the T, that you can win and carry that state by just doing well in the two urban areas.  And these voter registration numbers, I think, make it even a tougher sell for McCain. 

MADDOW:  That‘s right. 

FORD:  I‘ll agree. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Lots to talk about tonight. 

And coming up, Bill Clinton raising John McCain‘s age on the campaign trail.  Is it smart politics tonight?  And later in the your show, your play date with our panel.  You call us 212-790-2299.  The e-mail Race08@MSNBC.com.  The RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE is coming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Have you noticed that Clinton supporter James Carville is mad, really mad at the Bill Richardson.  Is he also sending a message to the Clinton campaign?  We‘re going to go “Inside the War Room.”  That‘s next. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Now we‘re back and “Inside the War Room” now where we pull back the curtains on the presidential campaigns and take a closer look at their strategies.  Still with us, Rachel, Harold, Chuck and Pat. 

First up, race matters.  Hillary Clinton is speaking out now on the controversy surrounding Barack Obama‘s former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright. 

Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I was asked what I would do if he were my pastor, and I said I think the choice would be clear for me.  He would not have been my pastor. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Plus Senator Clinton went even further in an interview she did with the editorial board of the “Pittsburgh Tribune Review” where she accused Obama‘s pastor of, quote, “hate speech.” 

Go to the quote board, “You know, I spoke out against Don Imus saying that hate speech was unacceptable in any setting and I believe that.  I just think you have to speak out against that, you certainly have to do that, if not explicitly then implicitly by getting up and moving.” 

Rachel Maddow, why this, why now after Hillary Clinton and her campaign so studiously avoided the topic? 

MADDOW:  I think they decided that they really need Barack Obama to take a big hit.  I don‘t know that they have other cards to play against him.  This one gave him a little bit of a hit in the last few weeks, and so they are seeing what else they can ring out of it.  I think it‘s just—is exactly what it appears to be, which is some political desperation.  Otherwise, why go back to it now after this pause for a few days? 

GREGORY:  Harold Ford, you have to believe that this then becomes an argument for her core supporters and those superdelegates to say if you‘re not moved by this, the Republicans are going to be moved by it, and they‘re going to saddle Barack Obama with this down the line. 

FORD:  I think Rachel and Chuck‘s earlier are spot on in many ways.  I mean this is a political campaign.  We shouldn‘t act surprised when this kind of things happened.  If one—one candidate had some vulnerability and in Barack‘s case.  

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  .Senator Obama‘s case he‘s soared above a lot of this politics for so long, and it‘s finally an issue that has caused a bit of consternation for him, politically that is.  I don‘t see how this should be a surprise.  The question for Senator Obama is how do you answer this one more time convincingly?  I think he may have to make one more statement about it and then just move on from it. 

There was an effort to do it last week.  But I don‘t think you put all of this blame on Senator Clinton. 

GREGORY:  That‘s very interesting. 

FORD:  Some of it has to be put on the press. 

GREGORY:  Pat, the suggestion is he is not done.  He‘s got to do more here, so that people don‘t think, should we rethink what this guy is really about? 

BUCHANAN:  I think this is a legitimate tactic, I think, by Hillary Clinton.  Look, Republicans have had to answer for Bob Jones, for Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, for John Hagee, for any time one of these things comes up, and I agree with Harold, this has more—less to do with race per se than it does with anti-American hate speech, the U.S. of KKK, God blank America, and all that.  That‘s what‘s going to antagonize and enrage people in Pennsylvania.  And if he‘s been in the church for 20 years, he should have severed himself and she‘s got a perfect right to raise this issue. 

MADDOW:  Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  I mean, look, her  life is—political life is on the line and this is not unfair at all. 

MADDOW:  Pat, the difference, though, between this situation and what you just described where Jerry Falwell and Bob Jones and the rest, that Republicans weren‘t attacking each other about those guys.  They got attacked by the rest of the country on those things.  This is a Democrat choosing. 

BUCHANAN:  What are you talking about?  John McCain—John McCain used the term agents of intolerance. 

MADDOW:  And then he went and he gave. 

BUCHANAN:  .about Robertson and Falwell that was right inside our party. 

MADDOW:  But then he went and spoke and gave the commencement address at Falwell‘s university. 

BUCHANAN:  (INAUDIBLE) 

MADDOW:  Republicans have by and large held their fire against each other on this issue.  Democrats opt to. 

BUCHANAN:  Why was he converted to the right side? 

GREGORY:  All right.  Let me get in here. 

BUCHANAN:  He was converted here on. 

GREGORY:  I want to get to the next topic in the war room, which is James Carville.  Why is it that he is so mad at Bill Richardson?  The rage and cage got a lot of flack for comparing the former Clinton Cabinet member to Judas, betraying Jesus after Richardson endorsed Obama.  But yesterday Carville refused to apologize. 

Watch. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JAMES CARVILLE, CLINTON SUPPORTER:  I thought it was appropriate metaphor, because he needed to be singled out for special treatment.  I was not quoted out of context, Anderson.  I was quoted accurately.  I knew what the effects of this would be and they were exactly as I predicted. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  This morning Carville went even further.  Watch this. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CARVILLE:  I wanted to be sure that Richardson act was branded properly.  I want this act to be remembered for what it was and it will be. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Chuck Todd, is Carville sending a broader message to the Clinton campaign? 

TODD:  You know, I think he is.  It‘s interesting.  He has been somewhat reluctant to be a backseat driver in this campaign.  But boy, this was a—this seemed to be a shot to the Clinton campaign saying, hey, guys, this is how you could have rounded up superdelegates.  This is how you could have gotten 400 of them on your side before the end of the 2007 calendar year.  This is how you twist arms.  This is how you send this message. 

And boy, you know, as much hardball politics as people think the Clinton campaign has played, they never did when it came to rounding up superdelegates. 

GREGORY:  That‘s a really interesting point.  And Harold Ford, the question is, should they have done that earlier?  Should they have allowed so many superdelegates to have been uncommitted for so long? 

FORD:  I think they, in many ways, totally underestimated the power and the compelling nature of this Obama campaign and him as a person.  And they are searching for new narratives, new ways in which to not only have their message heard more but to raise concerns and questions about Senator Obama. 

Now, they have to be careful in some regard because this issue, as much as I think there‘s a separation between some of Reverend Wright‘s remarks and race, there are many in this country whom believe that this has some racial overtones. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  So they have to be very, very careful in light of what has come out after the South Carolina primary. 

GREGORY:  Let me get one more in here.  Bill Clinton is out on the trail, but the Democrats can breathe easy.  This time the former president uses microphones to take aim at the Republicans—get ready, Pat—specifically, John McCain‘s age. 

Play it. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

BILL CLINTON, FMR. U.S. PRESIDENT:  Look, we‘re going to have an historic election regardless.  We‘re going to elect either our oldest president ever, or our first African-American president or our first woman president. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  What do you think about that, Pat Buchanan?  That was pretty

he‘s got a lot of these indirect (INAUDIBLE), doesn‘t he? 

BUCHANAN:  We‘ve been giving him a hard time for questioning Barack Obama‘s patriotism, he said McCain was a patriot.  Now we know he is a very, very old patriot.  I mean that is the quintessential Bill Clinton. 

GREGORY:  Is it good idea or bad idea, Rachel, to bring up the specter of McCain‘s age?  A lot of people are thinking about it. 

MADDOW:  A lot of people are thinking about it.  I think it pushes at the bounds of political acceptability.  I think it‘s right on the edge.  I think the only thing that is positive about this is that it will probably be effective against John McCain, because it is on a lot of people‘s minds.  And for once Democrats are talking about the Republican candidate instead of levying that kind of stuff at each other.  So that‘s the positive side of it. 

GREGORY:  I should mention this on the endorsement today, John McCain picked up formal backing of former first lady Nancy Reagan.  Mrs. Reagan will endorse the presumption GOP nominee in about a half hour in California. 

Chuck Todd, quick comment here about the politics of going after John McCain‘s age at this point.  And Bill Clinton is kind of the messenger here, the master of subtlety here in the past week. 

TODD:  Well, it‘s interesting.  This was, I like to say, a slight change.  It seemed like President Clinton was reluctant to go after John McCain, than if anything he was using McCain, saying positive things as a way to try to lift up Senator Clinton and go after Obama. 

But look, the age thing is going to be hanging over there and over McCain‘s head this whole time.  Forget Bill Clinton, look at what late night has been doing to McCain.  They‘ve over the top about it, Letterman, Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel, Jay Leno, you name it, Conan, they‘ve gone after this hard.  I think that‘s done more damage than anything Bill Clinton has said. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Coming up, Hillary Clinton is hopeless, and Barack Obama more divisive than unifying?  Question marks on both of those.  We‘re going to get to “Smart Takes” and what they‘re saying when we come back. 

Plus, she‘s not the superdelegate but she is the Obama girl and she‘s back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  “Smart Takes” time.  Welcome back, we read all the papers, combed the blogs, and now it‘s time to bring you the smartest takes on the 2008 campaign.  Back with us, Rachel, Harold, Chuck and Pat. 

Our first “Smart Take” tonight, “New York Times” columnist David Brooks has a scathing review for Hillary Clinton‘s fight for the Democratic nomination, which he believes she has only a 5 percent chance of winning. 

Let‘s go to the quote board. 

“For three more months Clinton is likely to hurt Obama even more against McCain without hurting him against herself.  And all this is happening so she can preserve that 5 percent chance.  When you step back and think about it, she is amazing.  She possesses the audacity of hopelessness.” 

Harold Ford, pretty strong language. 

FORD:  No doubt strong language.  Mrs. Clinton will have to think long and hard over the next several weeks.  But I think to take that advice now would not be smart for her.  I mean she finds herself locked in a race behind about 100 delegates.  I do hope that the tone in this race comes down as a Democrat so we can prepare for the fall.  But I don‘t think the party hurts itself too badly over the next several weeks to have a little bit of a fight here, because one thing is certain, John McCain will use—would have used all if these things against Senator Obama. 

And anything that Senator Obama may say against Senator Clinton, including this misstatement she made about her trip to Bosnia. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

FORD:  .you better believe that  John McCain would have raised that as well. 

GREGORY:  But Rachel, there is a real course within the Democratic Party saying enough of this, this is not a debate about policy descriptions, this is a debate about personality, about process, about race and gender.  Is that good for the party? 

MADDOW:  I‘m one of those people who‘s been saying that every passing second the way this isn‘t resolved helps John McCain, and gets him—makes it more likely that John McCain is going to win.  It‘s the end game in the Democratic nomination process, is the convention in August?  It is all but lost, because that means the general election campaign lasts about five minutes and John McCain has had a five month head start. 

I will say, though, that—while I believe that, and so therefore I‘m kind of on the same page as David Brooks, I found that column to be incredibly small and nasty and unnecessarily mean.  And I actually found it painful to read. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Our. 

BUCHANAN:  Let me just agree with Rachel here. 

GREGORY:  Yes. 

BUCHANAN:  That 20 to one is preposterous.  I mean David Brooks better not go out to Vegas and play cards.  I think Hillary Clinton‘s chance is probably somewhere between three to one and four to one against her.  But one more Reverend Wright explosion and she is back in this race.  I mean I think she could win Pennsylvania.  She could win Indiana.  She‘s a long shot with all his money for North Carolina.  But if she starts winning these things. 

GREGORY:  Right. 

BUCHANAN:  .I think this becomes a competitive race again. 

GREGORY:  And you are—and Pat, you‘re previewing one of our big questions tonight.  Let me get on to the second “Smart Take” tonight.  The “National Review‘s” Rich Lowery says the Reverend Wright controversy isn‘t just a story about race.  It cuts to the heart of Obama‘s claim that he can bring the country together. 

Go to the quote board, “The Reverend Wright drives a wedge into the central contradiction of Obama‘s campaign.  An orthodox liberal politician who rose to prominence in a left-wing milieu in Chicago and has never broken with his party on anything of consequence, is campaigning on unifying the country.  There is nothing particularly unifying about Obama‘s past and his voting record.” 

You know, “The National Journal” rated Obama the most liberal senator. 

Chuck Todd, is that a problem for Obama? 

TODD:  This is a cheap challenge for him if he becomes the nominee.  He has this appeal to independents because they like what they‘ve have heard from him.  And there certainly are people that seemed to vouch for him.  You got guys like former RNC chair Ken Mehlman, who knows Obama personally from their law school days, who will sit there and say this is a guy who will listen to conservatives, who will open up.  But I‘ll tell you, his record isn‘t matching the rhetoric and that is going to be something of a challenge in the general. 

MADDOW:  I agree. 

BUCHANAN:  You know. 

GREGORY:  Harold Ford, you know about centrist Democrats, where has Barack Obama bucked the liberal Orthodox seed of the party? 

FORD:  Look, Barack Obama‘s campaign and his ability to bring the people together was going to be attacked by Republicans whether the Jeremiah Wright issue came up or not.  Ken Mehlman was the chairman of the Republican Party when I ran for Senate in Tennessee and he was responsible for one of the worst, most disgusting and repulsive ads run in campaign history the way he did in Tennessee.  So as much of a good guy as he is, they would have all opposed Barack. 

What Barack has to do now is to answer this one more time and to get back to what allowed him to land where he is right now politically.  Soar above the non-sense and the silliness in politics.  Talk about those issues that Americans rally around and want to galvanize for, and bring the country to a point where we understand that we can solve problems.  That‘s his appeal.  And to be worried about what some other Republicans. 

GREGORY:  Fair enough.  But Rachel Maddow, has he had a sister soldier moment?  Has he had a sister soldier moment like Clinton?  Has he done anything to really push back against the core of the Democratic Party? 

MADDOW:  I don‘t know that that‘s what his message of unification is about.  I‘m not sure that being a centrist or being a conservative Democrat feels more unifying to the country right now than what Barack Obama is offering.  I mean this is only a smart take if Barack Obama is going to be defined by his opponents and the people who‘ve been taking political shots at him.  If you define him by Jeremiah Wright, then fine, you can have that take. 

BUCHANAN:  All right.  David. 

MADDOW:  But if you define him by the speech he gave after he was attacked by Jeremiah Wright you see what he‘s offering, that completely wipes this lowery analysis off the map. 

BUCHANAN:  David, he is going to be McGovernized.  He is the most left-wing senator in the Democratic Party. 

MADDOW:  Yes, right. 

BUCHANAN:  The Reverend Wright—excuse me, hold it.  Reverend Wright will be exhibit A in an indictment of about 60 exhibits.  Every left-wing vote he cast, the—his stand on the war, all of this things, high taxes, this is the Republican attack machine. 

Look, the only way the Republicans can win this thing, given the fact the issues are against them, is to make Obama a hard leftist, outside the mainstream associating with radicals.  And there‘s a lot of folks in there, William Ayers, as well as Reverend Wright and the others, Republican talk radio is doing it.  And if the Democrats don‘t think this is the campaign in the fall, they are going to be sorely mistaken. 

MADDOW:  No, but. 

FORD:  Now look, I have not endorsed anybody because I can‘t—when Barack Obama reached out to Tom Coburn, one of the most Republican and conservative senators in the Senate, to work with him on not only campaign finance but ways to reign in this earmarked issues.  When he reached out to John McCain to work on campaign finance, no one accused him of not—of being a liberal then.  I think his politics is one that America can rally around.  But I would agree with pat in this sense.  His narrative has to change over the next several weeks.  If not, he will be defined and described by Republican attack machine. 

GREGORY:  All right. 

FORD:  .who will do all he can to tear him down. 

GREGORY:  I got to get in here.  We‘re going to take a break. 

FORD:  I think we all have to agree with that. 

GREGORY:  Coming up next, Hillary Clinton‘s foreign policy flap.  Is the mistake about Bosnia fire anything more than a gotcha moment?  We‘re coming right back. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back with RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  On our panel Air America‘s Rachel Maddow, DLC Chairman and former Tennessee Congressman Harold Ford, NBC News political director Chuck Todd and former presidential candidate Pat Buchanan. 

Now the part of the program where we take a look at the three questions in the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.  First off, Hillary Clinton is trailing in the delegate count, trailing in the popular vote.  NBC News estimates, our own Chuck Todd‘s First Read, she would need more than 70 percent of the remaining super delegates to break her way to reach that magic 24 number. 

David Brooks put her chances of winning at five percent.  Our question tonight, what is Clinton‘s path to the nomination?  Chuck, take a stab at it. 

TODD:  Simple, don‘t lose.  Not only does she have to win Pennsylvania, she‘s got to win North Carolina and Indiana.  From there, she can recalibrate this whole race, start sending the message that maybe Obama is struggling now holding his own base.  A victory in North Carolina is essential.  She‘s not the nominee without a victory in North Carolina. 

GREGORY:  But it‘s not just a numbers game, right?  You talked about the 70 percent, a really high hill to climb.  There‘s got to be some other factors here. 

TODD:  That‘s the thing.  When you are relying on that high of number of super delegates to come your way, then you do need this confluence of events.  It‘s not only showing that you‘re starting to win and he‘s not, and you start running your own streak.  He won 11 in a row.  She hasn‘t had a streak like that.  If she could put together a streak like that, then that sends one message. 

Then she also needs huge changes in these polls state by state with McCain and nationally, where Obama is trailing McCain and she‘s ahead of him.  Right now, it‘s all over the place.  In some places, she out-performs Obama.  But west of the Mississippi, Obama clobbers her. 

GREGORY:  Harold, you‘re talking to people within the party.  Do they see a path for her beyond this five percent chance? 

FORD:  Chuck hit the nail on the head.  She‘s got to win North Carolina.  It‘s a state she‘s not expected to win.  She not only has to perform well there, but win in a convincing way. 

Number two, if she‘s able to do that, Chuck is spot on.  I think she can develop that momentum.  Three, with regard to the super delegates, my governor, Phil Bredesen, has laid out I think a reasonable plan.  Right after the Puerto Rico primary, we bring the super delegates together in an open forum and let them cast their votes then.  Don‘t do it in any closed room, any closed door.  Let‘s dispel any sense that this is done by elders or those that are not accountable.  Let the super delegates do it in open air, and share with Democrats and the country how they came down. 

Chuck had it right.  She‘s got to win, win, win and win.  If not, you‘ll have many in the party calling for her to get out after North Carolina if she does not win. 

GREGORY:  All right, more now on Hillary Clinton; she came under fire today for telling voters that she came under fire while on a ‘96 trip to Bosnia.  On the campaign trail last week, Clinton gave a graphic illustration of how she gained foreign policy experience as first lady. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I remember landing under sniper fire.  There was supposed to be some kind of greeting ceremony at the airport.  Instead, we just ran with our heads down to get into the vehicles to get to our base. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Then the video came out of the goodwill trip, showed a very different picture.  Her campaign first said she misspoke.  But talking to reporters later today, Clinton didn‘t mince words.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

CLINTON:  I made a mistake.  That happens.  It proves I‘m human, which, you know, for some people is a revelation. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Which brings us to our question; how badly damaged is her experience argument?  Rachel? 

MADDOW:  I don‘t think she‘s been running as the candidate with military experience.  I don‘t think she‘s been running as the candidate who knows how to deal with sniper fire.  I think ultimately this more of a media issue than it is a voters issue.  It was an obvious misstatement and there‘s great tape to run, so people are running with it.  But this doesn‘t go to the core of the case she‘s making with voters. 

GREGORY:  Pat, she does say, look, I misspoke.  There‘s lots of time.  She said something interesting.  She said, I say millions of words every week.  She‘s going to misstate something.  Is that the case here? 

BUCHANAN:  Well, obviously—look, when you have the tape was the precise opposite of what she said—I think she‘s handled it pretty well lately by saying she misspoke.  The problem here—I agree with Rachel.  I think this was a distraction for two or three days.  It‘s a slight hit to credibility.  I don‘t think it really damages her in terms of experience. 

GREGORY:  Chuck, there is this specter of her running on her experience inside the White House.  It was extremely inconvenient that this did not bolster her argument that, in fact, she‘s encountering danger, going into a war zone, right after the White House records indicating that on some of the key issues of the Clinton presidency, she was sticking to a first lady schedule.  She was not at least demonstrably behind the scenes working. 

TODD:  Two ways that this story is damaging to her potentially.  One is that it gets reporters to want to report about other instances during the Clinton presidential years that she says she was involved in and they will fact check her on that.  If they find another misstatement from her, that would then create a so-called pattern. 

Two, it feeds into this notion that the Obama campaign is trying to say, which is that she will say whatever it takes at the time, that she is being—to use a word that gets used to disparage the Clintons—

Clintonian about her remembrances.  It brings up the wrong kind of memories of the ‘90s for some folks.  That‘s why this story could be damaging.  One-time thing is fine and she can get out of it. 

GREGORY:  All right, let‘s talk about number three and John McCain will give a major speech on Iraq in Los Angeles tomorrow.  It comes as the Democrats are planning a major offensive against McCain based on that comment he made that the U.S. could be in Iraq for 100 years.  McCain has refused to back down on that.

When I interviewed President Bush about it, he thought it was a little bit extreme, but said, they could certainly be there at least another ten years.  Our third question for tonight, for candidates running in 2008, how long is too long to be in Iraq?  Harold Ford? 

FORD:  You have to get the job done.  In the minds of voters across this country, I think a lot of what we‘re doing now is not working.  If there‘s signs that political reconciliation can happen in Iraq, I think the country would be behind a longer stay.  But the country is not going to support a continuation of what‘s happening right now on the ground. 

I said it yesterday and I‘ll say it again, John McCain is going to do a little bit of an about-face, if not a flip-flop, on Iraq.  He‘s going to say that had we put more troops on the ground in Iraq when I suggested, had we fired Don Rumsfeld when I suggested, we‘d be in a different situation in Iraq.  We have to stay and finish the course.  But he‘s going to distance himself from George Bush in a big way tomorrow in Los Angeles. 

GREGORY:  Pat, is that enough? 

BUCHANAN:  I think what McCain has to do—I think the 100 years thing is too much.  I think they‘re going to be more wars is too much.  What McCain has to do, and I think it‘s what he believes, is we will come out of Iraq when victory is won and when there is no possibility of an American defeat, no possibility that what 4,000 guys died for is poured down a sewer.  I think he‘s going to take that stance and he‘s going to say Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton, they have time tables to get out regardless of the consequences and I do not, no hard time tables.  We‘re going to stay there until the job is done. 

I don‘t think he can leave that because that‘s his best stance politically and what he believes. 

GREGORY:  Do you think Barack Obama changes his position at all or Hillary Clinton changes her position if they make it to the general election and say, maybe an immediate withdrawal is not the way to go. 

MADDOW:  Well, neither of them is calling for an immediate withdrawal.  They are both calling to be as careful getting out as we were careless getting in.  I have to say, I disagree with Harold.  I think what we should expect from John McCain tomorrow is to further embrace Bush, the way he has been more and more on Iraq.  He came back from Iraq and said, we are succeeding on the day that there‘s all but a Shiite uprising in Iraq, on the week that we learned that the Sunni Awakening councils area all going on strike. 

He comes back and says, we‘re doing great.  We‘re succeeding.  We‘re winning.  I think John McCain‘s rosy talk and rose-colored glasses about Iraq show no signs of going anywhere.  We‘re going to get a big dose of that in that speech tomorrow.  I don‘t think Clinton and Obama need to change much what they‘re saying at all. 

GREGORY:  Let me get a break in here.  It is you turn to play with the panel.  One has a question for Pat Buchanan coming up.  Plus, Al Gore to the rescue.  Could he settle the score between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama and walk away with the nomination in the process.  Our viewers are wondering.  This is the RACE FOR THE WHITE HOUSE.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  Welcome back.  We‘re answering your e-mails and voice mails, as we give you a shot to play with the panels.  Still with us, Rachel Maddow, Harold Ford Jr., Chuck Todd, and Pat Buchanan. 

First up, Dina in Illinois has a bone to pick with the pundits.  Take a listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  I‘m watching “Meet The Press” this last Sunday.  Everybody is talking about how Obama supporters will not go to Clinton but that the Clinton supporters would go for Obama.  I‘m a Clinton supporter.  I would not vote for Obama. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  This is actually a real issue.  Right Pat?  We‘ve actually seen polls that show Clinton supporters would not support Obama in Pennsylvania. 

BUCHANAN:  I think that‘s right and I think the nastier the campaign gets, the more this is true.  I‘ve had a number of women come up to me at airports and various places, saying, I‘m for Hillary, Mr. Buchanan, but if she doesn‘t make it, I‘m voting for your guy.  They obviously thinks McCain is my guy. 

I really think the longer this goes on, the harder this is going to get.  I think Barack‘s people, a lot of them will stay home if he loses.  All that energy and fire will be gone.  Many of hers will go with McCain. 

That‘s why I think there is still a long shot for a Hillary-Obama ticket. 

GREGORY:  Wow.  Next up, Liana in Virginia doesn‘t buy that Hillary Clinton‘s comments about her 1996 trip to Bosnia were merely a slip of the tongue.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  Hillary Clinton lied.  That‘s it.  She did not misspeak or trip up on a statement regarding Bosnia.  She lied.  She‘s made that comment more than once, more than twice, more than three times.  And now that she‘s being caught on it, she says that she misspoke.  No, she lied. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  I think we belabored this.  Chuck Todd, remind me, I think she spoke about this.  What did it say in her book about this.  She talked about getting warnings of sniper fire in the hills. 

TODD:  No, in the book—nobody is disputing that account.  Had she stuck to what she wrote in the book, she would have been fine.  Those last two callers, David, tell you everything you need to know about the bitterness of this Democratic primary.  That first woman sounded like someone that wouldn‘t vote for Obama.  That second woman sounded like she‘s not going to vote for Hillary Clinton.  That‘s the real problem going on. 

GREGORY:  Right.  And a viewer from Hawaii thinks maybe James Carville or all people can help him find the way to Jesus.  Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE:  Regarding Carville‘s painting Bill Richardson as a Judas; my question is who is Jesus, Hillary or Bill? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  It‘s actually an interesting point here.  Rachel, because in many ways it seems the argument was this is a betrayal of everything the Clintons have meant to you in your political life, both of them. 

MADDOW:  One of the great side details on this is that Bill Richardson wouldn‘t return Bill Clinton‘s phone calls for days around the time of that endorsement, which made me think Richardson is more of a wuss than I thought he was.  I didn‘t realize that was going to go that way.  I think that kind of makes Bill Jesus, but I‘m uncomfortable with that. 

FORD:  Don‘t call a bearded man a wuss.  I‘ll tell you that. 

GREGORY:  What about, Harold, the damage in the party and the bitterness that Chuck just talked about.  Rachel said earlier in the program, the longer this goes on, the harder it is to bring the party back together.  As someone who is within the party, a former elected official, are you not amazed that in such a strong year on paper for the Democrats, you see this going on? 

FORD:  Both of these candidates view this as a unique chance to win the presidency, so there will be an intense and at times acrimonious and ugly race.  I remind voters in ‘04 -- I‘m sorry, 2000, when George Bush said those awful things about John McCain, John McCain rallied right behind George Bush and helped him win.  In 1980, when Reagan and Bush had that awful primary and the first George Bush referred to Ronald Reagan‘s economic plan as voodoo economics, they figured out a way to get together.  Not only get together but ran together. 

I think a lot of the concern right now is understandable.  But I think as you get closer and closer to the summer, and we have a nominee, it will be clear to people that John McCain represents a third term for George Bush and either Hillary or Barack represent change.  That will be the narrative of the campaign.  I think the last two callers, as heated as they are, and I understand it, and as passionate as they are about their candidates, I think they will find their way right back to the Democratic column. 

GREGORY:  Here‘s what I think is different: I think this has gotten to be a very personal campaign.  Whether it‘s about race, whether it‘s about gender, whether it‘s just about personality or this vague idea of who is most prepared, I think it‘s gotten away from issues.  It‘s gotten more to being in the sphere of movement within the Democratic party, and it‘s brought out a great deal of passion. 

FORD:  You covered 2000, the awful things that George Bush accused John McCain of, fathering an African-American child, saying that in South Carolina.  I can tell you, from the south, that isn‘t a very popular for a white man to, be accused of in a political campaign.  These are tough times, no doubt, in the campaign.  Both of these candidates view this as an opportunity to win the presidential race. 

GREGORY:  I think the supporters are different.  

BUCHANAN:  David, I think that Carville not only speaks for himself—he‘s the quintessential loyalist—I think he speaks the heart of Bill and Hillary Clinton about what Richardson did.  I think they are extraordinarily bitter.  I think they are going to go to the wall for this, not only because their dreams are involved, but because the nomination this year looks like it does mean the presidency.  They are not going to let go.  I think they are very personally bitter about Obama and what they have done. 

MADDOW:  I don‘t know that that‘s huge news though.  I don‘t know that threatening to call them Biblical names out at super delegates is going to help them either.  The big difference between the Democratic and Republican history on this is that Republicans have a history of getting in line behind the nominee, even when they have done horrible things like Bush did in 2000.  Democrats don‘t have that same tradition. 

GREGORY:  I want to get to the next caller, Tonya from Florida, because she has changed her mind about Hillary Clinton and has a question for Pat.  Another woman with a question for Pat.  Listen. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE:  At one time I was going to vote for Hillary Clinton, but with her dirty politics it has totally changed me.  You can tell she‘s more concerned about winning the race than keeping the Democratic party unified.  I also wonder why is Pat Buchanan so afraid of Barack Obama?  Because he keeps mentioning him a lot.  Do they believe that Hillary Clinton will be an easy person to beat? 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

GREGORY:  Quick answer, Pat. 

BUCHANAN:  No.  No, I don‘t.  I think Hillary, if she can get Obama on

the ticket, would be the strongest ticket.  I think Clinton/Obama would be

I think Obama now, because he‘s on the left, I think he would be easier for the Republicans to beat.  But I think McCain is going to have a tough time winning this thing. 

GREGORY:  All right.  If you weren‘t heard from today, try again tomorrow.  Play with our panel every week night right here on MSNBC.  the email, Race08@MSNBC.  Call us too, 212-790-2219. 

Coming up our panelist will read the tea leaves.  Chuck Todd is predicting a surge in super delegates for Barack Obama.  This is MSNBC, the place for politics.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

GREGORY:  We‘re back.  We waited almost an hour.  Now is our chance to really put the pressure on our panel.  It‘s time for their prediction.  Chuck Todd, what do you see coming? 

TODD:  A little bit of a small super delegate surge for Obama.  Not a big one like was predicted right after March 4th had he won Texas, but a very small one, trickles that by the time of the Pennsylvania primary will make it so his current super delegate total of 218 will possibly be as high as 240, 245, almost where he pulls close to even with Clinton in super delegates. 

GREGORY:  It‘s interesting.  I‘ve talked to Obama advisers who say there is a lot of support among the supers privately, but they don‘t want to pull the trigger.  How much pressure to get them out one by one by one, to start saying that they have defected or made up their mind. 

TODD:  I think that‘s it.  In some ways they have a better shot of getting them one by one and having them trickle out.  Ironically, the more this gets personal—frankly, if it is seen that the Clintons are using the Reverend Wright issue in a way that‘s unfair to Obama by some of these super delegates, that‘s actually the easier way they are going to lure these people out. 

GREGORY:  Patrick, prediction time. 

BUCHANAN:  If Obama gets the nomination, which I expect he will, he will move quickly to hedge and qualify his commitment to pull all 16 -- all combat brigades out of Iraq in 16 months.  I think he‘ll have to do it just as Samantha Powers (sic) predicted. 

GREGORY:  Interesting.  He‘ll have to because he‘s going to read the tea leaves in the general electorate. 

BUCHANAN:  I think you don‘t want a hard and fast deadline for withdrawal that soon.  It‘s just not good politics.  Conservative Democrats, some of those folks that won in 2006, will move against him if he doesn‘t do it.  To use terms like responsible that Hillary has been using, and others, but he will qualify that. 

GREGORY:  Interesting.  We know we‘re going to hear from David Petraeus in early April, early next month, and the president will make a decision on troop levels or leave them the way they are. 

Harold, what does your crystal ball say tonight? 

FORD:  In spite of all of the obvious fighting between the Democratic for the nomination, I think the Dem 527s will begin early, sooner than later, to define John McCain.  It was said yesterday that he will seek to reintroduce himself, John McCain, that is, in the coming days.  I think you will see an effort right behind that to define him as the conservative he is and how wrong he has been on certain issues that relate to the future of this country.  The Dem 527s will start sooner rather than later. 

GREGORY:  Let me ask you this, though, Harold.  Sum up the mood of the electorate right now.  If you think it might be too facile for Republicans to try to paint Barack Obama as a liberal based on his voting record, do you think tying McCain to Bush will also be seen as a bridge too far.  This guy‘s got a long record as a maverick who stood up to this Bush administration and stood up to George Bush. 

FORD:  Force him to be what he is, what Democrats are going to ask.  Is he the Republican that sided with President Bush on Monday or is he a maverick on Tuesday.  If, indeed, we want a president who is consistent, who is firm, who is going to lead the country in a different direction, you can‘t have one who is one way on Monday, a totally different one on Tuesday.  That‘s what they will seek to show and begin to show that Democrats are more unified than I think some suggest. 

GREGORY:  Rachel, before your prediction, you talked about this with regard to McCain before, the fact that he courted conservatives before he found that wasn‘t working for him as kind of an establishment candidate.  Does he have more room here to evolve to try to get away from George Bush? 

MADDOW:  I think that we‘re seeing him get closer and closer to George Bush.  My prediction today is that when you have that John McCain speech tomorrow on Iraq, we‘re going to see him defend and reiterate that 100 years in Iraq statement.  I think he‘s going to stand up for that.  He‘s made a couple of confusing statements about, if we‘re not taking casualties, we can leave, and also, if we‘re not taking casualties, we can stay forever.  He had that repeated misstatement about al Qaeda. 

He‘s got to shore up pro-war, continuing the Bush legacy, stay the course, Bush third term line.  I think he‘s not going to away from; I think he‘s going to run right with that all the way through the general. 

GREGORY:  All right.  Chuck, quick comment on the politics of Iraq and how a prolonged presence in Iraq and those troops plays as you cut across this in the general election. 

TODD:  I think at some point McCain may try to define victory.  The thing that‘s never been done very well by the Bush administration is defining victory.  If he can figure out a way to do that and then frame a debate around that, he has a chance to win this argument.  Unless he figures out a way to define victory that the average, independent voter, who is against the idea of going to war in the first place but doesn‘t want us to lose, then he‘s going to have a real problem winning this Iraq argument. 

GREGORY:  I‘m going to leave it there.  Thanks to the great panel tonight.  One final note of thanks tonight to Dorothy and John and everyone else at the Stepler Stone (ph) group home in Reston, Virginia.  Thanks for welcoming Max and me to your home this morning.  Keep up the great work.  We‘re back here tomorrow at 6:00 eastern.  “HARDBALL” next.

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

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